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"Yeah, I’m nervous too. I just flew in last night. I’m giving this talk this morning, then I’m flying home.” It was the morning of the first day of the ESA conference, and I was striking up conversation with the guy sitting next to me, a student from University of Idaho. He apparently had an even rougher situation than I did, not that my situation was particularly rough, just that I had to give a talk to a bird audience (I do not really study ornithology) in about 10 minutes. At least I had the rest of the week to enjoy the meeting. This guy had to arrive, give a talk, then leave again—what a bum deal, or so it seemed to me.
Two hours later, we had both given our talks and were relaxing over coffee. We rehashed our research programs and talked about mutual friends we discovered we had in Idaho. It was great to partake in what I found to be the best part of the ESA meeting—meeting new people and talking about research and life in general. Before I arrived in Montreal, site of the 2005 ESA annual conference, I had halfway expected everyone to be a high-powered researcher with an attitude to match, too important to talk with me. Instead I found everyone to be friendly and happy to talk. I guess there were still the occasional scientists that seemed too busy for a grad student they did not know, but really most of them were open to talking, even with a second-year grad student and first-time ESA attendee like me.
During the poster session later on the first day of the conference, I was ready to have a beer and relax a bit. I had been told that the poster sessions were the best place to network with researchers that you wanted to meet, that it was a good idea to introduce yourself to researchers in your field. To be honest, that did not sound like such a relaxing task, but I got a beer, prepared a mental list of people to be on the lookout for, and wandered around the maze of posters. Along the way I met lots of students doing work closely related to my own. And I ran into a woman from my undergrad program; she was now researching trophic interactions in the great lakes. I even ran into a senior scientist in my field. He was surprisingly easy to talk with. It took a little energy on my part to get up the guts to say hello, but once I did that, it was an easy conversation—he seemed as interested in me as I was in him.
That night I reflected on my first day in at a major scientific conference. It was not what I had expected, not that I really knew what I was expecting. But now I felt like I had been introduced to the club of ecologists, a club that was friendly and helpful, and a club that I was happy to start being a part of.